Cassini Completes Trip Through Asteroid Belt. Jupiter is next, then Saturn and Titan.

By Keith Cowing
April 16, 2000
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CassiniNASA announced last week that the Cassini spacecraft, en route to Saturn, made a successful transit of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. This is not the first time this has been done – Pioneers 10 & 11, Voyagers 1 & 2, Ulysses, and Galileo have all made the traverse before. Despite the incorrect cinematic notion that the asteroid belt is full of asteroids jostling for an opportunity to smash a hapless spacecraft, the region is not considered a hazard to navigation.

On its way through the asteroid belt Cassini did manage to capture a distance image of the asteroid 2685 Masursky. Although the ‘flyby” was done at a distance of 1.6 million kilometers (960,000 miles)Cassini was able to show that the asteroid is 15 to 20 kilometers (9 to 12 miles) in size.

Asteroid 2685 MasurskyCassini was launched on 15 October 1997. Its flight path has taken it through the inner solar system several times for gravity assists from Earth and Venus. Its trajectory is now set to place it in Jovian space towards the end of December 2000 with its closest approach (to obtain a gravity assist from Jupiter) on 30 December. As it transits the Jovian system, it will make measurements of Jupiter’s magnetic environment in tandem with Galileo – the first time two spacecraft have observed a Gas giant simultaneously.

Cassini will then continue on its trip to Saturn. Arrival at Saturn occurs on 1 July 2004. Cassini’s Huygens probe will arrive on the surface of Titan Saturn’s largest moon, on 30 November 2004. After completing its primary mission, NASA will certainly have no shortage of plans for follow-on tasks such has been the case with Galileo. A number of additional plans have already been formulated ranging from sending Cassini out of Saturnian system to aerobraking it into orbit to map Titan.

Background information

Cassini Misison Status 14 April 2000, NASA JPL

Cassini mission homepage, NASA JPL

New Cassini Images of Asteroid Available, NASA JPL

Galileo Spacecraft to Fly with a Friend, Earn Bonus Miles, NASA JPL

Huygens fifth checkout successfully completed during night of 2 February, ESA

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